Sweet and Sour, Nuclear Power

Being stuck in the grim Californian sunshine I didn’t make it to the STFC Town meeting on the 8th. So I don’t have insightful analysis for you. Instead this is a kind of dummy post so other people can tell me what happened.

Following up links from Paul Crowther’s site, the press seem to think the entire thing was about Jodrell Bank, so everything is ok now. Oh good. You might expect me to whinge on about AstroGrid now, but I just don’t have the energy. (Its too hot here). Hang on a tick though, the Telegraph seems to have a story about STFC destroying the country’s nuclear power capability !!! Naturally, STFC have put out a statement explaining that they are reponsible for the nation’s power stations.. Fair enough. But perhaps someone has some facts on how much has been cut on the Nuke Physics side ?

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13 Responses to Sweet and Sour, Nuclear Power

  1. Russell Smith says:

    I think you mean “STFC have put out a statement explaining that they are NOT responsible for the nation’s power stations.” In any case, surely it makes no sense to respond with “Ah yes, but STFC-supported nuclear physics has nothing to do with useful stuff”. Aren’t we all supposed to be making the case that fundamental science can eventually bring unforeseen economic benefits? One might think it an easier case to make for nuclear physics (even nuclear astrophysics) than for galaxy evolution, for example…

  2. Kav says:

    Yes I can understand STFC wanting to make the point they have in that press release, but in the light of relevance to UK PLC and benefit to society that is quite a big own goal they have scored there for the next CSR bid. I can see why they want us all to make the funding case for them! 😉

    With regards to the Jodrell bank thing I wonder how many in the media realise that it has been ‘saved’ for two years until the next programmatic review, and then the fun starts all over again…

  3. quietman says:

    Andy, whether we like it or not Jodrell Bank was seen by the press and the public as the symbol of the whole crisis. They know the telescope, they’ve never heard of Astrogrid, ILC, WFAU or many of the other casualties. I’m told that the people at Jodrell were uncomfortable with being at the centre of attention, but what could they do?

    Kav, as I’m sure you know, all projects will be subject to the programmatic review again. Let us hope that it is somewhat less traumatic than this first one under STFC’s stewardship.

    The STFC town meeting in London was a bit of a damp squib. There was nothing we didn’t know. An eloquent plea was directed at the senior STFC people asking them to tell the community what they need to feed into the next CSR. I think the message was received. Oh, and STFC is now the ‘Council of Hope’ as opposed to the ‘Council of Doom’.

  4. Paul Crowther says:

    Andy,

    since you ask, Nuclear Phys are facing a 22% cut to grants according to STFC Council News from Jan 08 (the one in which the volume of astronomy grants in 2011 are only 11% below the 2005 level), but NP only now seem to have woken up to the reality of switching over from EPSRC for this CSR.

    Despite the “good PR story” about JB, and the apparent back-slapping at the Town Meeting over the Prog Review outcome, many of us back in rain-soaked Blighty are still underwhelmed by the selective response of PPAN et al. to the ground-based astro and
    space science
    reports, plus the squeeze on exploitation grants needed to extract science from this kit.

    Oh, before we get too carried away with STFC’s newly found openness and transparency, whatever happened to the community consultation over its Science and Technology Strategy that was promised at the SB Town Meeting on March 3 and at NAM on Apr 2?

  5. Dave Carter says:

    I don’t understand the point of that statement. Is someone high in STFC management anti-nuclear power? If so they have no business expressing that view in this way.

    Far better to highlight the role of EPSRC in nuclear technology, and emphasise how forward-looking councils like STFC and EPSRC will need to work together on such problems.

    Nuclear physics is part of STFC’s remit, and students studying Physics and taking nuclear physics options see the future need for a new generation of nuclear power stations as opening a possible career path. And we will need these power stations, either that or spend alternate evenings reading by candlelight.

  6. Kav says:

    Paul,
    I know the solar and STP panel wrote a letter complaining about a couple of things in PPAN’s response hoping for clarification (and I believe an apology for misinterpreting them in one case) and are yet to receive a substantial response (as I understand it).

    Specifically it was to do with PPAN claiming that the panel “accepted the inevitability of UK withdrawal from the EISCAT subscription in 2011,” which the panel did not do; and the strange case of BiSON (funded by a roller but assessed when other similar cases were not).

    Dave, I think STFC just have not thought it through. It looks like a knee-jerk reaction -an attempt to deflect additional bad PR that has failed to consider the full ramifications. I have heard a couple of folk calling it yet another example of their incompetence. Let’s face it, we know that STFC is not beyond insulting their scientific communities in defence of themselves – remember we are all afraid of change and we are just whinging about cuts to our own areas.

  7. Paul Crowther says:

    Andy

    you invited reports from the STFC town meeting. Alas, this was a bit of a damp squib judging from the nature
    news item
    . My spies who did attend have reported that some lingering concerns were raised, including

    1. the authoritarian structure of STFC – more active scientists required in the decision making process,

    2. tensioning between the different areas, which also relates to my earlier comment above on the pending science and technology strategy.

    Advisory cttes are all very well, but these can be readily be ignored by the higher cttes if they so choose. On the question of projects, I for one, am curious how MoonLITE managed to evade normal (PPRP) peer review. If it gets the green light, I hope that it will eventally be considered in competition with the rest of the programme, and doesn’t try to sneak through under the wire (a complaint made about Aurora by Sciece Board late last year you may recall).

    Profs Mason, Wade and Womersley were all on best behaviour last week, although this blog from a Physics World journo nicely illustrates how concerned STFC remain about bad publicity.

  8. Dave Carter says:

    Just another piece of STFC spin, there is an announcement to day of 236.5 million of capiital investment, in a number of things, all individually pretty worthy. However we have seen in the past CSR round that having such assets is not altogether a good thing, because you have to pay capital depreciation on these assets (or the government double dips by announcing first the capital, then an increase in non-cash allocation to pay for the depreciation). I am not sure exactly what period these capital facilities are depreciated over, but I would think that there will be something like an extra 10-20 million per annum charge against STFC non-cash as a result of these new facilities. So we have to be very wary that this charge does not come out of our programmes.

  9. David says:

    Is there any cash (or near cash, or non-cash or, for all I know, Monopoly cash) to exploit these new facilities? Or are we building more stuff that we don’t have a plan to run?

  10. Dave Carter says:

    Or indeed just to operate them. Some of these things will use quite a lot of electricity.

  11. Kav says:

    A question regarding this new announcement.

    We have heard that the pain of the shortfall has been spread evenly across the PPAN and PALS communities – everyone shared the brunt.
    Now in this announcement we see that the government has earmarked additional funds tof £25M for ISIS Target Station 2 and £92.5M for the Diamond Light Source, for the design and construction of an additional ten beam lines.
    Very good that they have been allocated more money and should help to placate the worries of those communities that they were being ignored.

    So does this make up for cuts made to their area and what does it do to the balance of ‘pain’? No snark here, just a serious question.

  12. Paul Crowther says:

    Kav

    This doesn’t really affect the current `pain’ of the Diamond or ISIS user communities, since the LFCF announcement relates to long term projects (look over the new RCUK roadmap, which physics departments were consulted by RCUK about this earlier in the year).

    For example, Diamond Phase III is not anticipated to be operational until 2015, with operating costs to be bid in future spending rounds, and exploitation grants to be sought spread across a variety of Research Councils.

    The budget for LFCF is increasing at a very healthy rate for CSR07 from £105M in 2008/09 to £265M in 2010/11, which is very good news for UK science. The headache for astro (within STFC) downstream, as Dave – and John Peacock previously – highlights is that the government’s accounting system allows them to claim credit for such investments twice. Initially, at the point of award, and subsequently through `increases’ in Research Council budgets through their non-cash (depreciation) components of settlements. If astro were extracted from STFC, any future budgetary squeeze wouldn’t be masked by such shenanigans.

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